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A light at the end of tunnel seen between soured Korea-Japan ties

A light at the end of tunnel seen between soured Korea-Japan ties

Posted November. 15, 2013 06:59,   


Japan`s Vice Defense Minister Masanori Nishi told his South Korean counterpart Baek Seung-joo that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has an intention of a deep apology for issues regarding his country`s perception of history, according to sources. Nishi, who was in Seoul to attend the Seoul Defense Dialogue, also said that Japan respects the 1993 Kono statement. Despite a series of remarks distorting history on official occasions, the Japanese prime minister offered an indirect apology through a vice minister. In the Kono statement, the Japanese government acknowledged the Japanese military`s involvement in recruiting sex slaves during World War II and apologized to the victims, promising to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. Right-wing groups in Japan urge the Japanese government to revise the statement.

Some observers say that Nishii`s message may be an indication, albeit through a behind-closed-doors talks, that Tokyo is taking a forward-looking stance in a bid to mend fences with Seoul.

During the talks, Japan focused heavily on showing active gestures to ease the strained ties with South Korea in addition to explaining Tokyo`s pursuit of collective defense. Nishi also expressed a strong hope that Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera will have bilateral talks with his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin. Neither Japanese defense minister nor foreign affairs minister has visited South Korea since last year. "Japan should have self-reflection based on truths of past history," Baek replied, stressing the sincerity of an apology.

Separately, Abe said Thursday that he strongly hoped the two neighbors hold a summit within this year, a day after he conveyed the same message to Lee Byung-kee, the South Korean ambassador to Japan.

Abe made the remark during a meeting with a 19 South Korean delegates, including lawmakers, who visited Japan to attend a joint meeting of the Korea-Japan Cooperation Committee, according to Seo Byung-soo, a lawmaker of South Korea`s ruling Saenuri Party who was among the delegates.

Seo quoted Abe as saying, "I hope that the multilateral summit of Korea, China and Japan as well as the bilateral summit (with South Korea) will be held as soon as possible." The Japanese prime minister was also quoted as saying that his cabinet has the same position on past history issues including wartime sex slavery as previous ones. Analysts say that this remark is also in line with Nishi`s message that Japan respects the Kono statement.

Japan`s wooing reflects Tokyo`s awareness that the currently strained Seoul-Tokyo relationship should be addressed. Seoul shares the view that neither side would benefit from the current relationship. South Korean President Park Geun-hye`s initiatives for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia cannot make progress under the current state of the South Korea-Japan relationship.

"If (South Korea) puts up a wall against Japan just as it does now and if China-Japan dispute over the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyudao in China) escalates into a physical clash, South Korea will be in a predicament," a Seoul official said. It is in the same vein that the South Korean government risked political burdens to hold a high-level meeting in Seoul last Thursday with China`s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin and Asia Bureau Director-General Shinsuke Sugiyama from Japan`s foreign ministry. South Korea played the role of a mediator between China and Japan.

"With the strained relationship with Japan, South Korea has been able to make the best use of its window of opportunity between China and Japan," Lee Myeon-woo, a researcher at the Sejong Institute. He said that Seoul and Tokyo should make a breakthrough by seeking to publish joint history textbooks.